We're celebrating the inspired architectural majesty of five of the quirkiest churches in the country, unique temples of worship that abandoned the rigidity of traditional rectangular plans, devoting themselves to the divine artwork and style that modernism had to offer (with a sneaky monastery for good measure).
And All That Jazz
Cork people have much to be proud of. One thing they can certainly show off about is having the first Modernist church in the land, Christ the King Church at Turner's Cross which opened for service in October 1931. Furthermore it holds the title of being first ever concrete church in Ireland.
Chicago architect Barry Byrne got the commission to design the church for this new parish in 1927.
At this church, you are literally welcomed inside by Jesus, with his upper arms starting off the chevron shape of the Art Deco age. The sculpture was designed by American sculptor and painter John Storr, who had been a student of Rodin and had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright (as did Byrne).
The building is larger than you would expect standing on the outside, with a seating capacity of 1200. The stepped form is carried through to the interiors including the plaster ceiling, the altar reredos and the luxurious black terrazzo floor.
Where the Winds Meet
This next church is a mesmerising structure sitting in the wild beauty of Connemara. Our Lady of the Wayside, dedicated to the patron saint of travellers, waits patiently on a high bog plateau in Creeragh, Galway is on the N59 between Letterfrack to Leenane.
The church was mainly funded by Boston-based Irish emigrants - it’s design as dramatic as its setting, it was designed by Clifden-born architect Leo Mansfield (1934 – 1998). Leo Mansfield Jnr owns a giftshop in Clifden and he can tell you the tale of the house his father designed in the area for Peter O’Toole!
It’s geometric shape, triangular walls on a square plan, is both exceptional to view and clever in dealing with the four winds that sweep the landscape. It’s angular tent-like slate roof reaching to the ground mimics the mountains. The apex of the front A-frame is filled with a spectacular triangular stained glass window by artist Phyllis Gibney.
Here, she depicts Our Lady in the traditional red shawl of Connemara. Stepping inside the origami-like folds of the building results in the most delightful pine-cladded ceiling. This little mirage of a church has been popular for weddings and christenings since it opened its doors in 1968.
The Clean Lines of Muckish
St Michael’s church in the village of Creeslough, Donegal (1971) is another example of the influence of the natural landscape on an architect. It was designed by Liam McCormick & Partners, and many say it’s inspired by Le Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp. McCormick (1916 – 1996), better known for his Burt church, is considered the father of modern Irish church architecture.
Its shape echoes the distinctively flat-topped Muckish mountain beyond, one of the "Seven sisters" of peaks with the church one of McCormick’s seven Donegal churches. It is a brilliantly white organic mass with rough-cast plaster walls punctuated by small colourful recessed irregularly-placed windows. The church is fan-shaped in plan, with curved seating to accommodate 475 worshippers.
Typical of McCormick’s churches, it heavily showcases the input of artists such as Helen Moloney, who designed the stained-glass windows and the woven alter tapestry. Moloney also created the enamel motif panels of the tabernacle design by John Behan. Behan also made the baptismal font, the open steel-framed bell tower and the freestanding metal cross to the left of the church.
The most unusual feature of this church is a circular pool near the entrance filled by rainwater from the heavens collected on the roof which flows down spiked chain reminiscent of the biblical crown of thorns.
Spaceship in Glasnevin
The Church of Our Lady of Victories, Ballymun Road, Glasnevin, Dublin was completed in 1969. The rapid growth in housing during the late fifties and early sixties in Dublin's suburban areas saw the need for a new parish church. It was was designed by Richard Guy of Guy Moloney & Associates, who also designed St Patrick’s Boys’ National School Hollypark (1969).
This impressively scaled church with its copper eaves and double-layered series of pitches is a curious landmark like a landed spaceship with its antennae topped with a simple crucifix.
The colossal portal entrance juxtaposes with the suburban light brick walls. The full-height gorgeously geometric stained-glass windows were created by the same hand as Creeslough, Helen Moloney, along with Sheila Corcoran.
Built to seat a congregation of 1900, the design emphasises the full and active participation of the congregation in the Mass as outlined by the recent Second Vatican Council - incorporating the essential seventies’ church feature many readers might remember as 'the crying room’ for restless babies.
And last, but not least, a Modernist monastery - Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, Co. Antrim. This striking complex was designed by architect Pádraig Murray (1962- 71) consisting of a monastic church, a public church to add to an existing guest house, a repository and craft shop.
Founded in 1948, it was the first enclosed monastery of men to be established in Northern Ireland since the Reformation. The monastery belongs to the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, also known as Trappists, who live in strict silence, early rising, physical work and self-sufficiency which formerly consists of a dairy farm and kitchen garden on the grounds. .
Though a modern scheme of concrete, brick and glass the building follows the tradition of monastic cloisters – covered walkways along a quadrangle which in this case consists of beautifully simple, continuous concrete corridors for the robed inhabitants to follow this centuries-old pattern. This courtyard acts as an architectural barrier that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the outside world. The public church is elevated to the first floor with modest interiors of wood panelling with grey Flemish bond brick wall above. The rectangularity of the monastery is broken by the zig-zag roof resulting in intricate ceilings.
The monastery is built on the grounds of Portglenone House, where Roger Casement often stayed in the early years of the 20th century. The house today functions as a guesthouse, offering board and bed for guests to stay in for a suggested fee. Although its scale anticipated the population of monks to grow from 70 to 100, it currently houses only eleven, so anybody consideration a cloistered life should throw in their application!